One of the most consequential decisions of Michael Locksley’s Maryland tenure looms this fall, so it’s no surprise that he’s put himself in a position to gather as much data as possible.

This spring finds the Terps head coach not just watching the candidates to take over at quarterback, but coaching them directly. He’s in charge of the position room, which has a field of up to six candidates to take over for Taulia Tagovailoa — the four-year starter for the program who became the all-time Big Ten leader in passing yards.

“It’s a marathon, man, it’s a marathon,” said Locksley on Saturday, after the Terps practiced at Morgan State. “We’re gonna live with the ups and downs that go along with the competition.”

A spring practice — especially a blustery, chilly one like Saturday’s — is not the be-all, end-all, but it showed just how laborious the process of finding a successor will be.

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Returning quarterbacks Billy Edwards Jr. and Cameron Edge, who combined to go 16 for 39 with 228 yards last season, were constantly under pressure. If not for their yellow noncontact jerseys, they might have been eating turf for most of the afternoon. Neither distinguished himself much by throwing the football. N.C. State transfer MJ Morris, who has the most starting experience of any in the pack, didn’t play much in one of Maryland’s few public scrimmages this spring.

Locksley’s insistence that he won’t know the identity of his starting quarterback until the week before Maryland’s season opener against UConn could seem to some like gamesmanship. But the late deadline may stem from a true dilemma: How does he replace the most prolific passer Maryland has ever had?

At spring media day, Locksley called it “weird” to not go to work for Tagovailoa, who had become a fixture with the Terps, as much a tone-setter as the staff itself.

“We watched every practice for the four years he was here, together from 10 o’clock at night to sometimes one in the morning,” Locksley said. “And he and I have grown up together — he as a quarterback, me as a head coach.”

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For the last four years, the Terps have averaged at least 260 passing yards per game with Tagovailoa at the helm. Maryland averaged just 108 rushing yards per game last season, well in the bottom half of the conference, and relied on Tagovailoa’s arm and play-extending instincts to get them out of jams. It was a key reason why the Terps have been able to win at least seven games in each of the last three seasons, though they’ve rarely knocked off the top dogs of the Big Ten.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa #3 of the Maryland Terrapins reacts after scoring on a six-yard run against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Nov. 25, 2023. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Like any signal-caller who holds onto a job for so long, Tagovailoa had critics who wondered if he was good enough to carry the Terps to a higher level. But if the former leader of the offense never raised Maryland’s ceiling, he probably raised the program’s floor. That truism could be painfully reinforced this fall, with a schedule that includes games against Oregon, Penn State, USC and Iowa in an expanded, tougher Big Ten.

While Locksley said Saturday that the program is “ready to compete in the Big Ten for championships,” it seems more likely that Maryland will be clawing weekly just to stay above water.

There are other complicating factors for Maryland’s passing offense. Though Kaden Prather made a tough catch in 11-on-11 scrimmaging, the lack of an explosive passing game on Saturday was a reminder that the Terps lost senior receiver Jeshaun Jones, as well as tight end Corey Dyches to the transfer portal.

Locksley has stressed his belief that the Big Ten in particular will be won and lost in the trenches, which is why he’s worked hard to recruit high school offensive linemen who can mature into the players the Terps need to compete. Hard-hitting running back Roman Hemby, who leveled off after a breakout sophomore campaign, is back, and said he’s ready for additional carries to compensate for losing Tagovailoa.

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“Losing a guy like ‘Lia, it’s something that takes getting used to,” said Hemby, who said that the Terps are having a “great” quarterback competition. “I kind of take on more of a role of being a tone-setter just to be able to have something for these guys to fall back on as we need for the season.”

There’s a lot of football left this spring, and Locksley will have time to work in close proximity with his quarterbacks. But “falling back” is already something the Terps have to be worried about, without a clear-cut passer to lead them forward.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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